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7.4: Encountering Other Cultures (Summary)

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    From theory to practice…

    – Practice active listening and mindful observation. That includes watching out for tones, gestures, body language, and facial expressions. Pauses or silence may be sending a message. Hearing the other person out "gives face", showing that you respect that person and his/her views.

    In intercultural encounters, be prepared and willing to have your ego bruised and your worldview challenged. It's difficult for many people to be open to alternative views in particular areas, such as lifestyle, politics, or religion. Successful intercultural encounters do not require you to change your views and convictions, but they do require a willingness to accept that others have a right to different beliefs. It's helpful to keep in mind that worldviews are socially constructed.

    Have realistic expectations of both traveling and returning home. Imagined journeys often have little relationship to the lived experience. Knowing the language of the host culture can be a tremendous boost in adjusting, but it won't necessarily provide a seamless transition. You may well find that the language you learned in the classroom is quite different from what's spoken on the streets. Upon your return, you shouldn't expect friends and family to be as enthusiastic as you about aspects of the culture you have experienced. Be prepared for indifference.

    Be as informed as possible about the host country (i.e. customs, geography, politics), but also about your own country. When abroad, others will see you as an informant when it comes to your own culture and expect you to have knowledge about cultural institutions, politics, sports, etc. They may well expect you to have an opinion about current events they have read about or seen on the news. Before you leave, it's good to learn basic facts about the physical and cultural geography of the country you are visiting, such as largest cities, major transportation networks, regional differences.

    For discussion and reflection...

    On conflict...

    After watching the video on intercultural conflict styles...

    How would you describe your conflict communication style? Give an example of a conflict and what role you played in its resolution (or lack of resolution).

    After reading the article, "Keeping face in China"...

    How would you compare the importance of "face" in Asian cultures and in the U.S? Is respect (not getting "dissed") important to you? Is it important in your dealings with others?

    Am I rootless or am I free?

    After reading "Am I rootless, or am I free? ‘Third culture kids’ like me make it up as we go along"...
    What are advantages and disadvantages of growing up as a "third-culture kid"? What different perspectives might one have growing up this way?

    On acculturation...
    Think about planning a trip to another country. What preparations would you make to ease the acculturation process? Have you ever experienced culture shock or reverse culture shock? Describe your experiences.

    On mediated encounters and the Internet...

    After watching the TED videos by Turkle and Edry...

    Comment on the two different views on connecting with others through the Internet, and the notion of "I share, therefore I am". How do the views presented correspond to your experience using social media?

    Key terms

    • Acculturation: The process of cultural change that results from ongoing contact between two or more culturally different groups
    • Adjustment phase: Third stage of culture shock, in which people actively seek out effective problem-solving and conflict resolution strategies
    • Assimilation: Mode of acculturation in which an individual takes on the behaviors and language of the host culture while relinquishing ties with the native culture
    • Asylum seeker: A person who has left their home country as a political refugee and is seeking asylum in another
    • Conflict resolution: Two or more parties seeking to find a peaceful solution to a disagreement among them
    • Cultural schema: The familiar and pre-acquainted knowledge one uses when entering a familiar situation in his/her own culture
    • Culture shock: The effects associated with the tension and anxiety of entering a new culture, combined with the sensations of loss, confusion, and powerlessness resulting from the forfeiture of cultural norms and social rituals
    • Discourse: Conventionally, the use of words to exchange thoughts and ideas; in postmodern terms, a mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts
    • Ethnic cleansing: The systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory by a majority group
    • Expatriate: A person who lives outside their native country
    • Face negotiation theory: Theory first postulated by stella ting-toomey to explain how different cultures manage conflict
    • Face: Favorable social impression that a person wants others to have of him or her
    • Facework: Behaviors or messages (verbal or non-verbal) that maintain, restore, or save face
    • Immigrant: Person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country
    • Integration: Mode of acculturation in which the individual develops a kind of bicultural orientation that successfully blends and synthesizes cultural dimensions from both groups while maintaining an identity in each group
    • Marginalization: Mode of acculturation in which one belongs neither to the dominant culture nor wholly to one's native culture
    • Mutual-face: Respect and dignity of the group as a whole (primary interest in collectivistic cultures)
    • Other-face: Paying attention to the needs and desires of the other party in a conflict
    • Pragmatic transfer: The influence of learners' pragmatic knowledge of language and culture other than the target language on their comprehension, production, and acquisition of l2 pragmatic information
    • Reentry shock: The effects associated with the tension and anxiety of returning to one's native culture after an extended stay in a foreign culture
    • Refugee: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster
    • Self-face: Seeking one's own interest during conflict (primary interest in individualistic cultures)
    • Separation: Mode of acculturation in which there is voluntary segregation in ethnic group from dominant culture
    • Sojourner: Person staying for an extended period of time in a place as a traveler, student, or worker
    • Speech act: An utterance that has performative function in language and communication



    • Alda, A. (2017). If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. New York: Random House
    • Everett,,D. (2008). Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. Vintage Books
    • Hoffman, E. (1989). Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language. London: Penguin Books.

    Conflict resolution

    Presentation by Jonathan Stuart of Hennepin Technical College, based on theories by Mitch Hammer

    TED description: "Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi have a powerful friendship born of unthinkable loss. Rodriguez' son was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001; el-Wafi's son Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted of a role in those attacks and is serving a life sentence. In hoping to find peace, these two moms have come to understand and respect one another.

    TED description: "Ten days after 9/11, a shocking attack at a Texas mini-mart shattered the lives of two men: the victim and the attacker. In this stunning talk, Anand Giridharadas, author of "The True American," tells the story of what happened next. It's a parable about the two paths an American life can take, and a powerful call for reconciliation."

    TED description: "Vincent Cochetel was held hostage for 317 days in 1998, while working for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees in Chechnya. For the first time, he recounts the experience — from what it was like to live in a dark, underground chamber, chained to his bed, to the unexpected conversations he had with his captors. With lyricism and power, he explains why he continues his work today. Since 2000, attacks on humanitarian aid workers have tripled — and he wonders what that rise may signal to the world."

    TED description: ""How did a young man born into a high caste in India come to free 83,000 children from slavery? Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi offers a surprising piece of advice to anyone who wants to change the world for the better: Get angry at injustice. In this powerful talk, he shows how a lifetime of peace-making sprang from a lifetime of outrage."

    TED description: "Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counterintuitively) how the best partners aren’t echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree."


    TED description: "Aziz Abu Sarah is a Palestinian activist with an unusual approach to peace-keeping: Be a tourist. The TED Fellow shows how simple interactions with people in different cultures can erode decades of hate. He starts with Palestinians visiting Israelis and moves beyond."

    TED description: "50 million people in the world today have been forcefully displaced from their home — a level not seen since WWII. Right now, more than 3 million Syrian refugees are seeking shelter in neighboring countries. In Lebanon, half of these refugees are children; only 20% are in school. Melissa Fleming of the UN's refugee agency calls on all of us to make sure that refugee camps are healing places where people can develop the skills they’ll need to rebuild their hometowns."

    On travel and culture shock

    Mediated encounters (journalism, books, Internet)

    TED description: "As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other? Sherry Turkle studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication — and asks us to think deeply about the new kinds of connection we want to have."

    TED description: "What happens when a dream you've held since childhood … doesn't come true? As Lisa Bu adjusted to a new life in the United States, she turned to books to expand her mind and create a new path for herself. She shares her unique approach to reading in this lovely, personal talk about the magic of books."

    TED description: "In our digital world, social relations have become mediated by data. Without even realizing it, we’re barricading ourselves against strangeness — people and ideas that don't fit the patterns of who we already know, what we already like and where we’ve already been. A call for technology to deliver us to what and who we need, even if it’s unfamiliar."

    TED description: "This talk begins with a personal story of sexual violence that may be difficult to listen to. But that’s the point, says citizen journalist Meera Vijayann: Speaking out on tough, taboo topics is the spark for change. Vijayann uses digital media to speak honestly about her experience of gender violence in her home country of India — and calls on others to speak out too."

    TED description: "When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry shared a poster on Facebook of himself and his daughter with a bold message: 'Iranians ... we [heart] you.' Other Israelis quickly created their own posters with the same message — and Iranians responded in kind. The simple act of communication inspired surprising Facebook communities like 'Israel loves Iran,' 'Iran loves Israel' and even 'Palestine loves Israel.'"

    Personal stories

    The story of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai told by The Times's Adam B. Ellick, who made a 2009 documentary about her before she was an international star.

    TED description: "Jacqueline Novogratz tells a moving story of an encounter in a Nairobi slum with Jane, a former prostitute, whose dreams of escaping poverty, of becoming a doctor and of getting married were fulfilled in an unexpected way."

    TED description: "If you’re raised on dogma and hate, can you choose a different path? Zak Ebrahim was just seven years old when his father helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His story is shocking, powerful and, ultimately, inspiring."

    TED description: "As political turmoil in Yemen continues, the editor of the Yemen Times, Nadia Al-Sakkaf, talks at TEDGlobal with host Pat Mitchell. Al-Sakkaf's independent, English-language paper is vital for sharing news — and for sharing a new vision of Yemen and of that country's women as equal partners in work and change."

    TED description: "One of a dozen Pakistanis who came to TEDIndia despite security hassles entering the country, TED Fellow Asher Hasan shows photos of ordinary Pakistanis that drive home a profound message for citizens of all nations: look beyond disputes, and see the humanity we share."

    TED description: "'In the cathedral of the wild, we get to see the best parts of ourselves reflected back to us.' Boyd Varty, a wildlife activist, shares stories of animals, humans and their interrelatedness, or 'ubuntu' — defined as, 'I am, because of you.' And he dedicates the talk to South African leader Nelson Mandela, the human embodiment of that same great-hearted, generous spirit."

    TED essay: "It’s said there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love, once you’ve heard their story. Dave Isay knows that. The ability to honor every human by listening to what they have to say about themselves is central to StoryCorps, the nonprofit he founded in 2003."

    From storycorps recordings


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